I am sitting at a long wooden table in an outdoors cafe in Ubud, Bali. The oppressive humidity is breaking under a rumbling, grey sky of thick cloud. Fat drops of rain patter onto the outstretched leaves of the lush vegetation in the garden. Immediately, the mossies start nipping me and I sip my fresh juice whilst surreptitiously slapping at myself in a public place.
Around me, thin, toned yogis in lululemon sportswear are eating alfalfa sprouts and talking earnestly about their last yoga class.
I am about to start a three day yoga retreat and now all I can think about is whether alfalfa sprouts will fill me up.
I am concerned that I do not look the part: I am wearing the same pair of baggy shorts I have been living in whilst travelling.
I am hot, haven’t practised yoga for at least four years and the mosquitoes here love me.
It is clear to me that I am a little apprehensive.
I picture Julia Roberts in the Eat, Pray Love movie cycling past rice paddies, perched daintily atop a lovely bike, sweat and fuss free. She retreats to her airy, open plan home to meditate outdoors, seemingly unbothered by little insects that might nip and bite.
Well, Julia Roberts I am certainly not. Smothered from head to toe in thick, citronella insect repellent I shuffle into my first yoga session, grab a mat and head to the farthest corner of the room.
I picked the Yoga Barn as my destination for my yoga retreat, but the reality is, there are lots of similar places to chose from in Ubud, Bali’s cultural heart. The Yoga Barn is a beautiful venue; the ‘barn’ being constructed in a complex surrounded by lush vegetation and rice fields. There are many different rooms for classes, and the list to choose from is impressive. There are classes in yoga styles I had heard of, and many, many more that I hadn’t. There were tasters in meditation, chanting and talks about astrology. All in all, a well rounded place where you can dip your toe in – or continue your long love for – all things yoga.
All (purely my own) awkwardness aside, there was something refreshingly cathartic about yoga classes in an open air studio. Listening to the rain fall, or the birds or insects chirp as I hold my poses has me letting go of any apprehension.
Invigorated by the yoga, I decide to try a session in meditation. This involves sitting cross-legged in a circle, touching hands with the person next to you, whilst breathing forcefully in and out of your nose for several minutes. When the breathing stops, you focus your mind on one of the body’s chakra points. Then, the intense breathing begins again, and again, and again.
Now, I have never been one for sitting on the floor. As a child, I loathed having to sit on a dusty gymnasium floor every morning in assembly because I couldn’t cross my legs.
So, in meditation class in Bali, I fidget.
I try to move imperceptibly so as not to disturb my neighbouring meditators.
Around me, people sway and moan. I can’t keep up with the fast paced breathing and, to top it all off, my legs are going numb.
There is an ant crawling across the floor in front of me, probably on its way to chomp on my leg. I clamp my eyes shut.
As the image of a serene Julia Roberts becomes once again obscured, this time by the pants and chants of those around me, my mind begins to drastically wander off topic: at least I am wearing comfy shorts for all of this sitting. And, luckily for me, there are a lot of other tastier looking items on the menu than alfalfa sprouts.
What time is lunch?